Boris Johnson: MPs 'should be punished' if they break rules on second jobs

10 November 2021, 16:57 | Updated: 10 November 2021, 22:08

Boris Johnson has told MPs they will be investigated should they break the rules.
Boris Johnson has told MPs they will be investigated should they break the rules. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson has warned MPs they "should be punished" if they break the rules on having second jobs.

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The Prime Minister told the COP26 climate summit on Wednesday that his colleagues "must put their jobs first" and those who break the rules will be investigated.

His warning came as the former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox said he did not believe he had breached rules which ban MPs from using their parliamentary offices for outside business.

Labour has referred Sir Geoffrey to the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone after video emerged of him apparently taking part in legal proceedings in the British Virgin Islands remotely from his office in Westminster.

Read more: Geoffrey Cox: 'It's up to voters to decide if my job outside Parliament is reasonable'

Read more: Does your MP have a second job? Find out here

Responding to questions about second jobs, Mr Johnson said it is "crucial" that MPs follow the rules, but he refused to comment - or apologise - on any individual cases.

"On second jobs, I would say that for hundreds of years MPs have gone to Parliament and also done work as doctors, lawyers or soldiers or firefighters or writers, or all sorts of other trades and callings," he said.

"And on the whole, the UK population has understood that that has actually strengthened our democracy, because people basically feel that parliamentarians do need to have some experience of the world.

"But, if that system is going to continue today, then it is crucial that MPs follow the rules.

"And the rules say two crucial things: you must put your job as an MP first and you must devote yourself primarily and above all to your constituents and the people who send you to Westminster, to Parliament."

Read more: Met Police 'considering' call to investigate 'cash for honours' Tory scandal

The row over second jobs erupted last week after Conservative MP Owen Paterson was found to have repeatedly lobbied ministers and officials on behalf of two firms he was working for as a paid consultant.

Tory MPs were furious after they were ordered to vote for a review of the system which could have allowed Mr Paterson to appeal against a recommended six-week suspension, only for ministers to abandon the plan when opposition parties refused to co-operate.

The Tory MP later resigned from the "cruel world of politics".

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson's lack of contrition showed he did not care about the "corruption" engulfing his party and his government.

"Instead of taking responsibility the Prime Minister is taking the mickey out of the British people and won't clean up his mess," she said.

"He thinks it's one rule for him and another rule for everyone else."

Read more: Sir Geoffrey Cox could face probe after claims he used Parliament office for second job

During his brief press conference on Wednesday - which lasted all of 22 minutes - Mr Johnson also attempted to defend the UK government, assuring world leaders the UK is "not remotely a corrupt country".

He said: "Since we are in an international context and speaking before international colleagues, I want to say one thing which I hope is not taken in any chauvinistic spirit.

"I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country nor do I believe our institution is corrupt.

"I think it is very very important to say that.

"We have a very, very tough system of parliamentary democracy and scrutiny, not least by the media.

"I think what you have got is cases where, sadly, MPs have broken the rules in the past, may be guilty of breaking the rules today. What I want to see is them facing appropriate sanctions."

The Prime Minister also insisted all his activities as an MP and a minister are within the rules.

He told the press conference: "All my declarations are in conformity with the rules, and you can certainly study them, and that will remain the case."